Last week, we interviewed Lord of the Rings Online executive producer Jeffrey Steefel about Book 13, the next major content update for Turbine's splendid Tolkien MMO. Today, in part two of our interview, we shoot the breeze on a broader range of topics: how they're handling the lore, how they can improve the game's lacklustre player-versus-player, what the plans are for other platforms, why EVE Online is great, and who wants to be an Ent, anyway?
Eurogamer: Are your content guys Tolkien Legendarium fanboys, the way LucasArts employs Star Wars obsessives?
Jeffrey Steefel: I don't if it's possible to know everything, but we absolutely do, and probably for the same reasons. You start off with people that have a predilection for the lore to begin with, and make sure you have people on your team that are very well-versed, and then what begins to happen is that everybody on the team becomes very well-versed. I mean, I know things about Tolkien lore that I never even knew existed, having done the project for four years now. I've got a guy on my team who's a published fantasy writer and who studied linguistics and can, I believe, read and write two dialects of Elvish.
Eurogamer: At the current rate you'll finish the books in 2010. What then?
Jeffrey Steefel: Right now we're licensed to 2014 and can extend to 2017. We have the rights to the trilogy and The Hobbit, and that's what basing world around. We're not worried about running out of space and time. If you look at all the places we have to go, and how complex and richly-textured they get the more we go forward, we don't think we're going to run out any time during our license period, and even beyond that there's a breadth that you can start to explore. As long as we keep doing that, the richness will keep us going well past my retirement.
Eurogamer: Would you consider a Dark Age of Camelot-style graphics update in years to come?
Jeffrey Steefel: One of the wonderful things about Turbine, without sounding too Hallmarky, is that we started life as a tech company and at the core of what we do is our engine. It's not that simple, but for an example, we were not building our game as DX10, because when we started making it DX10 didn't exist (one of the joys of MMOs - like building a space shuttle with an 8086 computer). We saw we could be the first MMO to launch with it, so the core technology team built that into our renderer and engine and built it back into core products that we were building.
We are constantly merging tech back and forth in this continuum. We don't need to upgrade the graphics of our game, because we're constantly doing it - updating animations so the way characters move is much smoother, we're doing a complete overhaul of our UI system, which we'll talk about over the coming year, so it's a continuum. What I hope is that we continue to evolve alongside the industry and we continue to be out front.
Eurogamer: Could your tech team move LOTRO across to consoles; it already works with a gamepad, and 360 is dying for want of a decent MMO.
Jeffrey Steefel: The standard answer I give, which is genuine; our license for the Tolkien properties is across all platforms. That's not by accident. How and when is the best time to leverage that capability? We're evolving our engine; part of that is making sure we can distribute content wherever players are, so that's part of our core strategy.